Practice Economics

Study: One hour with patients means two hours on EHR




Physicians are spending twice as much time on electronic health records as they are face to face with patients, according to a new study by the American Medical Association.

Researchers observed 57 physicians in four specialties (family medicine, internal medicine, cardiology, and orthopedics) and found that for every hour of direct clinical face time with patients, nearly 2 additional hours is spent on EHR and desk work within the clinic day. Additionally, based on diaries kept by 21 of the participating physicians, another 1-2 hours of personal time were spent each night doing additional computer and clerical work, according to the study published Sept. 5 in Annals of Internal Medicine (2016. doi: 10.7326/M16-0961).


“Over the years, doctors have recognized that more and more of their time was spent on nonpatient care, activities but probably haven’t recognized the magnitude of that change,” Christine Sinsky, MD, vice president of professional satisfaction at the AMA and lead author on the study, said in an interview. “Our study was able to help to quantify that and paint that picture.”

Overall, physicians spent 27% of their day dealing directly with patients, while 49% of the time was spent on EHR and desk work. In the examination room with patients, physicians spent 53% of time on direct clinical face time and 37% on EHR and desk work.

The situation “is the cumulative effect of many, many well-intended efforts that individually might have made sense, but taken collectively have paradoxically made it harder for physicians to deliver quality of care and harder for patients to get the quality of care they deserve,” she said.

EHR development should be focused on reducing the time-cost of providing care on their platforms, Dr. Sinsky recommended.

She noted that for her practice, it takes 32 clicks to order and record a flu shot. “I think vendors have a responsibility to minimize time, to minimize clicks involved in a task.”

She added that “regulators have a responsibility to not just add more and more regulations without first identifying the time-cost of complying with that regulation and without adding up the total cost of complying with regulation.”

Future regulations on EHRs must add flexibility when it comes to who is entering information into the system, she said. “Many regulations are either written with the explicit statement – or it is implied or an institution might overinterpret the regulation – that the physician is the one who must do the keyboarding into the record,” she said, noting that although not primarily studied in the research, preliminary data suggests that doctors who had documentation support were able to spend more time with their patients.

Finally, physicians themselves need to be stronger advocates for the changes they need to enable them to better serve their patients.

In addition to Dr. Sinsky, three other study authors are employed by AMA, which funded the study. No other financial conflicts were reported.

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